The legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) has been meeting since the beginning of the session. This committee of 10 House and 10 Senate members is tasked with putting together the budget for fiscal year 2013 and is currently in the process of hearing budget requests from numerous state government agencies. This past week, several important presentations were made before the panel. On Wednesday, the University of Idaho’s President M. Duane Nellis made his pitch, asking the Committee to make increasing salaries for current university staff a priority as salaries have remained the same for the last four years. President Nellis expressed concern that without salary increases, some of his top staff and researchers would accept higher paying positions with other universities. On Thursday, the Superintendent of Public Education, Tom Luna, made his presentation for this year’s public schools budget, which comprises the largest portion of the state’s budget. Among his many proposals, the superintendent called for withholding the $29 million that the governor wants to place in the Public Education Stabilization Fund and instead put those funds toward back-filling cuts in teacher salaries. He also proposed fully funding the pay-for-performance component of last year’s education reforms. This, combined with the increases in teacher salary would increase teacher pay by 5% next year, the superintendent told lawmakers. Earlier this week, the Joint Economic Outlook and Revenue Assessment Committee, which helps JFAC and the legislature with its revenue projections, set a revenue figure for next year that is $33.3 million below the governor’s estimate from earlier this month. This committee may revise their projection- closer to Gov. Otter’s figure- depending on how well tax receipts for this month match previous projections. The projection for next month will be the basis for how the JFAC sets the budget for different departments, which they will begin doing on February 9th. HEALTH INSURANCE AND IDAHO
As a legislator, I view protecting individual rights of Idahoans’ a top priority. This year the Idaho State Legislature will likely be reviewing the Idaho Health Insurance Exchange, a mandate of the 2010 federal healthcare reform. It is my concern that this mandate, that Idahoans must buy healthcare and that it must be through the healthcare exchange, infringes upon Idahoans’ rights and is therefore, unconstitutional. Specifically, the law requires each state to create a health insurance ‘exchange,’ through an online portal, or website. The online portal or website will allow individuals and families the option to buy health insurance from companies that meet basic federal standards. Because the federal healthcare reform requires each state to have a working exchange set up by January 1, 2013. Although the overall goal of federal healthcare reform was to drive costs down, I am troubled to see insurance costs increase as changes are implemented. I expect the creation of Idaho’s healthcare exchange will continue this trend of not stimulating a decrease in healthcare costs, but will give the federal government a way to police Idaho’s healthcare insurers and their policies. This issue is important to Idaho’s future and is expected to provoke a lively debate. Having introduced you to this issue, I also want to note that Idaho is considering several things before taking up this important issue. Challenges to the constitutionality of the mandates in the Affordable Care Act are scheduled to go before the U.S. Supreme Court in March, with a ruling expected to come down this summer. With this potential stall to the debate, it is good to know that Idaho’s State run Insurance Department has a portal where Idahoans can enter various options for coverage and receive quotes from insurance carriers. This portal, www.insurersofidaho.com<www.insurersofidaho.com>, shas been in place for three years and is a system that Idaho could fall back on as an existing format incase Idaho does not, in fact, take up the Insurance Exchange during this 2012 Legislative Session. In addition, Governor Otter is currently considering applying for an extension for the deadline to implement the Health Care Exchange. I will keep you updated as I learn more.

* There has been growing support for an increase in funding for teachers’ salaries in order to backfill salaries which were frozen due to a downturn in the economy in recent years. I look forward to supporting legislation which will support Idaho’s teachers.
* On Wednesday, the Senate passed a bill which clarified the role of parents and guardians in the teacher evaluation process, clarifying that objective measures in growth in student achievement shall comprise at least 50% of the total evaluation. The remaining 50% of evaluations, including parental input, will be determined by each individual school district. TRANSPORTATION
The Senate Transportation Committee has introduced a bill which would increase the speed of tractor-trailers, ten-wheel trucks and semis from not more than 65 miles per hour to the posted speed limit on all roads up to 75 miles per hour. I am particularly interested in hearing what you have to say regarding this transportation issue. As I stated in my letter last week, I am thankful to each and every one of you who take the time to contact me and give your input on Idaho’s issues. I read every letter that I receive and take the voice of my constituents very seriously. Please continue to stay informed and make me aware of your thoughts and feelings on both current law and legislation under review during the 2012 Legislative Session. You can contact me via e-mail at CWinder@Senate.Idaho.Gov<mailto:CWinder@Senate.Idaho.Gov..>, by calling my office at 332-1307, by visiting my website at WWW.ChuckWinder.com<WWW.ChuckWinder.com>, and by visiting me on facebook.
Senator Chuck Winder
Assistant Majority Leader